Watch out for waking wildlife - The Heart of England Forest

With spring now well and truly in the air, the Heart for England Forest’s woodland wildlife activity becomes more frenzied as many residents wake up from their winter slumber, birds start breeding, flowers bloom and ponds teem with new life.

Birds and blooms

Evidence of this upsurge in action can be seen throughout the Forest. Anyone with a keen eye (and perhaps a handy pair of binoculars!) will be able to spot birds’ nests in the trees or woodpecker holes in tree trunks, especially in the more mature wooded areas of Dorothy’s Wood or Robert’s Wood in Dorsington. Look out for parent birds initially fashioning nests with any available local materials and, later, swooping in and out of those nests with food after their young have hatched.

Among the very first signs of spring will be early flowers taking advantage of the light peeping through the canopy before the trees grow a new covering of leaves. Plants like the crocus, lesser celandine and, of course, snowdrops, can be found growing in abundance across the woodland floor in early spring. Plants to look out for now are primrose, wood anemone and cowslips, while a carpet of bluebells is always a sight to behold!

Sleepers awaken

Hibernating hedgehogs wisely wait until the first warmth of March or April to begin their process of re-awakening. Having slept an almost unbroken sleep for four or five months through the coldest time of the year, they will be venturing out from their cosy boltholes to seek food. Hunting mostly at night, it is sometimes possible to spot hungry hedgehogs snuffling through the undergrowth during daylight in search of tasty insects or worms to top up their energy levels.

All of Britain’s bat species hibernate through the winter, too. Here at the Heart of England Forest we have mounted handy bat ‘motels’ in the form of bat boxes at several sites (most notably near Roman Wood at Barton), and they often hibernate in hollow trees where the temperatures will have remained relatively constant as they slept. Again, it is rare to catch sight of a bat during the daytime, but why not join our Evening Bat Walk in Dorsington on June 16th for the best chance to catch them.

At this time of year, dormice are leaving their low-lying nests to seek out food after hibernating during the winter. They are difficult to spot, as they are nocturnal, but if you are lucky you might see their empty small woven nests. These enchanting little creatures are a protected species and endangered in the UK and we are doing our best to create suitable habitat for them in the Forest.

Watery wildlife

Night time is the best time to spot newts too. They leave hibernation in February or March and return to ponds to breed. By shining a torch on a pond at night you may catch sight of them. Often mistaken for lizards, newts have moist skin with no scales, while lizards are dry and scaly. There are three main types in the UK – the common newt, palmate newt and rarer great crested newt.

Frogs and toads also hibernate to avoid freezing temperatures. Look around any pond or wetland area in spring and they’ll be coming to life – the small pond on Heart of England Forest land at Low Furrow Wood, Dorsington is a favourite place to look out for them. Before long ponds will be teeming with tadpoles, but they’ll do well to avoid the prying eyes of predators such as kingfishers, heron or larger fish!

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